The Blossoming of Steven Dawson - part 2

Steven Dawson grabbed hold of Misaki Kagamura's hand.

"How do you think she's going to react?" he asked.

"She" in this case referred to Dr Kagamura, a high-profile scientist and, as it happened, mother to Misaki. Dr Kagamura had found out about the developing relationship between her daughter and Steven, who also happened to be Misaki's teacher of EFL, English as a Foreign Language. Normally a relationship between teacher and pupil would have been cause for a serious review of the teacher's position, but in the case of EFL students, most of whom were fully mature, the same criteria did not apply. Misaki, for example, was twenty six years old.

Dr Kagamura had stumbled on the two of them the previous evening, when they returned from dinner at Misaki's local pub, and imperiously instructed them that she wanted to talk to them both. She actually wanted to do it then and there, whilst the blood was hot, so to speak, but Misaki had pointed out that Steven's last train home for the day would leave in twenty minutes, and their sentence had been commuted to today.

"What have you told your mother?" Misaki asked.

"The truth. I told her the mother of one of my pupils wanted a parent teacher discussion," he replied.

She gave him what he could only describe as a withering look.

"So she doesn't yet know about us. About me."

They were not questions.

"No. I wanted to know about your relationship with Samir first," he said. "I had only circumstantial evidence to go on, and if you and he were an item, I would have to bow out as gracefully as I could."

Misaki gave him another withering look.

"You almost make me want to give up on you," she said.

"I'm glad it's only 'almost'," he replied.

All too soon, as it seemed to Steven, they arrived, and Misaki opened the door and led him in. He had time to hang up his coat before a door further along the hall opened, and Dr Kagamura appeared.

"Konichi wa, Kagamura san," he said with a deep bow.

Dr Kagamura bowed back.

"It's not morning now, Mr Dawson. It is evening. If you are going to speak Japanese to me in the evening, you should say "konban wa". And you should use my personal name, Isamu, if you are going to add the word 'san'."

She bowed deeply to him.

"Konban wa, Steven san," she said.

"Konban wa, Isamu san," he replied with another deep bow.

"That's better. Now, come this way."

She turned back into the room behind her, and Steven and Misaki followed her.

"Please sit."

She indicated two chairs, and herself sat in a third.

"There are indications that you have a relationship with my daughter which goes deeper than your formal one as her teacher," she said. "I see no ethical problem with that. It is, after all, a school for adults. But I need to know more about it. So please tell me."

Steven paused before speaking. How much could he say, and how much should he say? He decided to give no more quarter than Dr Kagamura had given him.

"In the strictly legal sense, Isamu san, you do not need to know more about it. Misaki is, after all, well past the age of adulthood and can make her own decisions about the company she keeps."

Dr Kagamura made as if it interject at this point, and he sensed that Misaki also was disturbed, and he hurried on.

"However," he said, "we talked yesterday over dinner that we should speak both to you and to my mother, who is also ignorant of my relationship with Misaki. We had merely not been able to decide on a suitable time, since we did not think you would be at home last night when I said goodnight to Misaki. It's possible, probable even, that we would have decided to come and speak to you this evening. And this evening, when I get home, I will be telling my mother about Misaki."

He fell silent, and Dr Kagamura said nothing for a few moments.

"You obviously have a close relationship with my daughter," she said finally. "At least if I am to judge by the way you 'said goodnight to Misaki' as you put it. And the fact that you both are ready to tell your - how shall I put it - nearest and dearest also points to this being more than just a term-time romance. So what do you have to tell me?"

Suddenly Steven knew that this interview was going to go well, despite his earlier fears.

"We have spent a lot of time together, Misaki and I, and of course the other students, and admittedly it is in a work environment."

"I'm glad to hear it."

Steven nodded.

"Nonetheless," he continued, "I feel as though I know her well. We have spent the evening together a few times, not as often as I would like, but as often as we have been able to manage so far. It's been dinner, and once we went to a concert together. I'd like to do more of all that."

He paused.

"I hope you will approve of me," he went on. "I'm very fond of your daughter, Isamu san. I want very much to see a lot more of her. And I look forward to getting to know you better, too."

Misaki stared at him as his said this, and blushed to the extent that a Japanese can blush, then looked calmly back at her mother.

Dr Kagamura grunted, and was silent for a few moments.

"So what do you suggest we do now?" she said finally.

"Perhaps we can go to the Jolly Miller for dinner, the three of us, and talk about that?"

"Oh, yes, please do, Mother," Misaki burst in. "Today is Wednesday, and they have that shellfish paté and their fish soup which you like so much."

"You make a strong case, Misaki. Very well."

Over dinner Dr Kagamura questioned Steven deeply about his background, and told him a little of Misaki's in return. But the most important part of their discussion revolved around the introduction of Misaki to Steven's mother. It was decided that Misaki would travel out to Stoke Fercroft with Steven on the following Friday to meet Steven's mother and stay over until the Saturday.

"Why don't you come too, Isamu san?" he asked.

"That might be a little too overpowering for your mother, to meet your girlfriend and your girlfriend's mother on the same day. Though I must admit, I am keen to meet your mother."

"Then how about this? Misaki comes out this weekend. Then I happen to know that there is a concert on the evening of the Saturday a week later. Perhaps you both would like to come out for that? We have two spare rooms, so you can both stay over."

The first part of the plan - that Misaki would visit Stoke Fercroft on the following Friday and stay until Saturday was quickly agreed to, but Dr Kagamura thought it as well to see the effects of that meeting before making any plans for her introduction to Mrs Dawson. Steven walked back to the Kagamura house with the two ladies. He turned first to Dr Kagamura.

"Sayonara, Isamu san," he said with a deep bow.

Dr Kagamura laughed.

"That sounds very like a dismissal so that you can 'say goodnight', as you call it, to my daughter in private," she said, then bowed equally formally to him. "Sayonara, Steven san," she said and went into the house.

Misaki turned to Steven. She bowed.

"Sayonara, Steven san," she said, and her mouth twitched.

"Never mind sayonara," said Steven and pulled her to him for a kiss, and a second kiss, and a stroke of the cheek. Finally he took out his smartphone and took a picture of Misaki before he set off at a brisk pace for the station and his train to Stoke Fercroft.

When he arrived home he immediately went over to the kitchen cupboard where his mother kept the sherry and one or two other bottles of alcoholic drinks. He poured out two glasses, placed them on a tray, and took them into the living room, where his mother was watching television. She looked up in surprise at the sight of the sherry glasses, and turned off the volume on the television.

"What on earth?" she began.

"Mother, I have some news which I hope you will like. But first, cheers!"

And Steven lifted his glass to her, and, after a moment's hesitation, his mother raised hers.

"Prepared yourself for a shock," began Steven. "But on Friday I will be bringing a young lady to meet you. Her name is Misaki, and she is one of my pupils, and we've been seeing each other for a while."

"Is that the reason for all these late evenings recently? The working dinner with colleagues, the student party, and the parent teacher meeting today?"

"Yes. All except the parent teacher meeting. Although I did meet Misaki's mother, Dr Kagamura, and we all went for dinner."

"Misaki," said Mrs Dawson. "Sounds foreign. Where's she from?"

"She's Japanese, Mother. Here's a picture."

He took out his smartphone and showed her the picture of Misaki.

"Well, she's foreign alright," was her first comment. "Pretty enough I suppose if you like slant-eyes."

This was no auspicious start, and Steven had his work cut out to maintain his enthusiasm in the face of a noticeable restraint in his mother.

Friday was a long time coming, but like all longed-for events it eventually arrived. Steven and Misaki took the evening train home to Stoke Fercroft. The fact that they held hands was sufficient to draw the attention of the few other villagers who had alighted, to the pretty foreigner with Steven. He was known to them all, and each one called a cheerful 'good evening', and gave a friendly nod to Misaki. It was the same all the way along the main street from the station, where a number of people were out and about, doing their shopping, stopping to chat to neighbours, or on the way to the little café,.

As they passed a large house on the other side of the road, Misaki saw a man come down the driveway accompanied by a tall full-bodied woman, and Steven called out to this couple.

"Richard, Sandra, come and meet Misaki."

The couple crossed over the street to meet them, and each shook hands with Misaki.

"Pleasure to meet you, Misaki," said Richard Mason, and Steven explained to Misaki that Richard and his family would be giving the concert to which Misaki and her mother were invited next week.

"So are you another outsider who might be making regular appearances in the village?" asked Sandra.

"That seems to be a good possibility," said Misaki with a glance at Steven.

"Can you save us four tickets for next Saturday, Richard?" asked Steven.

"I'll set them aside as soon as we come home. And what are you two going to do today?"

"We're going home to meet Mother," said Steven. "And then we'll be going to the Stonemason's this evening for a spot of dinner."

Ah, yes, first Friday of the month. Patty Trevor will have charge of the kitchen this evening. That means something special. We're going too, aren't we, Darling?" This last to Sandra.

Sandra nodded.

"Perhaps we'll be able to sit together?" she added to Steven and Misaki.

"Sounds like a plan," said Steven, and Misaki nodded her agreement.

"Here we are," called Steven cheerfully as he opened the door of the house for Misaki a few minutes later. His mother came out into the hall to greet them.

"So you're the reason for all these late evenings," she said, when they had been introduced and Mrs Dawson had led them into the living room.

"Yes, I'm afraid so," replied Misaki. "But it hasn't been too often."

"So far. Three times in a month!"

"... and it's going to get more frequent now, Mother," said Steven. "Now that you know about Misaki. Living so far apart as we do at the moment, it isn't easy to be able to spend time together.

Misaki looked hard at Steven when she heard the words "at the moment", but said nothing.

"Well, as long as you let me know in advance when I don't need to make dinner for you."

"Today for one, of course. We're taking you to the Stonemason's for dinner this evening. Richard and Sandra said they would be there, too."

"How nice."

The words fell over the room like a blanket of ice. Steven stood up.

"I'll just show Misaki up to her room," he said. "And then, if you like, we can go."

His mother made no reply. Misaki stood up uncertainly and followed Steven out of the room. He picked up her weekend bag in the hall and stood aside so that she could go upstairs first, and indicated one of the guest rooms when they arrived on the landing. She opened the door and looked around the room.

It was more welcoming than she had expected after the meeting downstairs, she thought. Quite cosy, in fact, after the fashion of these westerners. Definitely not as ascetic as a guest room in Japan would have been. Steven dumped her weekend bag on the bed.

"I'll leave you to unpack," he said. "Yours is the bathroom at the end of the corridor." He indicated the general direction and made to leave the room, but Misaki stopped him.

"She doesn't like me, Steven," she said quietly.

"She'll come round. She just need a bit of time to thaw out. She's like me - doesn't like change to her routine."

"Maybe she sees me as a threat?"

"Why on earth?"

"Maybe she's afraid I'll take you away from her. She's already felt the change I've caused in keeping you in Winstable three nights this last month. And now you've indicated that it might soon be three nights a week, and maybe in time every day."

Steven said nothing.

"What does she do?"

"Do? She looks after the house, I suppose. Looks after me. Makes my breakfast, gets dinner ready for me, that kind of thing."

"And when you're not here?"

"I don't really know. She has her friends, maybe meets them in the café, does the shopping. She sings in the village choir."

"I understand. Now you go and get ready and I'll be down in a few minutes."

Steven left her and went into the other bathroom to wash his hands and face, then into his own room where he hung up his jacket and put on a sweater and went downstairs. His mother was still sitting in the living room.

"Are you ready, Mother?" he asked.

"As ready as I'll ever be," she answered a little glumly.

When Misaki came in, having changed into a skirt and blouse, and carrying a thin package, Mrs Dawson stood up and went into the hall to put on her coat.

"You look lovely," said Steven appreciatively, and Misaki smiled.

"Thank you, Steven," she said. "And you look relaxed."

The three of them set off for the Stonemason's Arms and Steven kept up a stream of information on the buildings they passed.

"That's the village hall," he said as they passed one building which looked like a nineteenth century school. "That's where Mother goes to choir practice every Monday, and it's where the Mason's and their friends will have their concert next week. An awful lot happens in the village hall. You could say it's the social centre of the village."

"How often does your choir have concerts, Mrs Dawson?" asked Misaki.

"Four times a year, usually," replied Mrs Dawson. "But those are the ones we give ourselves. And then we sing at a number of other events, or for special occasions, like Christmas carols, Guy Fawkes night, and the village fetes."

"You have a busy programme," said Misaki admiringly.

"Yes," said Mrs Dawson, and Steven thought he could detect a slight thawing in her voice. "But it's not as hard as it might sound. We have a lot of standard numbers, and usually just add one or two new items to the repertoire each time."

"The Stoke Fercroft village choir has a very high reputation around here," said Steven. "People come from miles around for their concerts, and a lot of them make an evening of it, and have a meal at the pub at the same time."

Before anything more could be said there came a "halloo" from behind them, and on turning round they found Richard and Sandra hard on their heels.

“Good evening, Mrs Dawson,” said Richard. “Looking forward to a spot of dinner?”

“Good evening, Mr Mason, Sandra,” replied Mrs Dawson. “Yes, indeed. Are you on your way there, too?”

“Never miss! And tonight we have the added incentive of finding out all about this young lady whom Steven’s been keeping secret.”

“Hello again, Misaki,” said Sandra. “Don’t worry about him. I’ll make sure he behaves himself and doesn’t get too personal!”

The five of them continued on their way to the Stonemason’s Arms, making small talk. When they arrived, Steven and Richard took the ladies’ drink orders and went over to the bar to order, and the three ladies went into the back garden to look around for a table in the evening sun. It was some time before they were all settled.

“Misaki,” said Sandra. “It sounds Japanese. Am I right?”

“You are,” smiled Misaki.

“And what brings you to England,” Richard wanted to know.

“My mother. She is a career scientist, and I look after her household.”

“And what does that entail?”

“Oh, the usual stuff. I do the shopping, cook the meals that Mother eats at home, which aren’t all that many, keep the house tidy, arrange maintenance when it’s necessary, make her travel arrangements ...”

"You're her personal assistant," exclaimed Sandra.

"I'd say more of a cross between a kitchen maid and a parlour maid," said Mrs Dawson.

"Mother!" protested Steven. "That's pretty much what you do, except that it's I who arrange the maintenance and I make my own travel arrangements."

Mrs Dawson looked miffed at her son's defence of Misaki.

"Well," she said, "Maintenance is a man's domain, and your travel arrangements aren't so burdensome. And besides, what I do is merely looking after my family."

"So does Misaki."

"Yes, well ..." Mrs Dawson ran out of steam. "And what do you do with all your free time?" she asked.

"I paint and practice my music, and I'm learning a foreign language."

Richard pricked up his ears.

"What do you play?" he asked.

"I play the shamisen and the kokyu," said Misaki.

"What are they when they're at home," asked Mrs Dawson.

"The shamisen is a Japanese instrument," explained Richard. "It looks a bit like a lute, with a long neck. You play it rather like a guitar. I don't know what a kokyu is but I assume it's another Japanese instrument."

"Correct," said Misaki. "The kokyu looks very like the shamisen. The difference is that the kokyu is played with a bow, like a cello, and, as you say, the shamisen is played by plucking."

"How long have you been playing, Misaki?"

"Since I was a child."

"We must hear you some time."

"And what do you paint?" asked Mrs Dawson, trying to make up some lost ground.

"Fairly traditional Japanese painting. Flowers, cranes, that kind of thing. I have one for you here as a present. There just wasn't time to give it to you before we came for dinner," she replied, handing over the package she was carrying.

"Cranes?" Mrs Dawson was dubious.

"The birds, Mother," said Steven gently.

"Oh, those cranes."

Mrs Dawson took the package gingerly, opened it carefully, and took out an exquisite painting. Before she was able to react, Sandra spoke.

"Oh, Misaki, it's beautiful," she said.

Misaki blushed.

"Thank you," she said.

"Yes, it's very nice, I'm sure," was Mrs Dawson's comment.

"Do you have many of these?" asked Sandra.

"I have quite a few."

"I have a friend in the art business. If you're ever interested in selling any, I'll take you to meet her."

"Thank you. I have an arrangement with a dealer in Japan, and I was wondering whether I would have to send all my pictures back there."

"So you play music, you paint, and you're learning a foreign language," said Mrs Dawson. "What language are you learning?"

"English," said Misaki. "That's where I met Steven."

"But English isn't a foreign language," protested Mrs Dawson.

"It is if you're Japanese," said Richard with a laugh.


"You sing in your spare time, Mrs Dawson," said Misaki, well aware of the older woman's animosity, and trying to give her something to match her own talents. "Do you practice at home?"

"Well, sometimes. Not often," stammered Mrs Dawson. "It depends. If it's a difficult piece we're learning, then I'll practice at home."

"And do you accompany yourself? I saw you have a piano."

"No. I haven't played since I was a girl. I wouldn't know how now."

Mrs Dawson was feeling more and more fragile as she felt her inferiority in comparison with the young Japanese girl.

"I think you'd find it soon comes back," encouraged Misaki. "Why don't you give it a try. It will add so much more to your day if you can play as well as sing."

"Well, maybe I will," murmured Mrs Dawson, at once flattered by the interest, and chagrined at the thought of how much fuller than her own was the life of this young woman whom she had been more or less unconsciously trying to belittle. She sat quietly, alone with her thoughts as the others chatted. Richard was interested in Misaki's music.

"If you're coming here again next weekend, Misaki," he said, "why don't you bring your instruments and play something for us?"

"Is she coming again next weekend?" asked Mrs Dawson, suddenly awakening from her reverie.

"Ah, yes, Mother," said Steven. "I hadn't got around to mentioning it. We thought it would be fun to go to Richard's concert next week, and maybe bring Misaki's mother along, too."

Mrs Dawson was struck dumb.

The others chatted cheerfully over the meal, and hardly noticed her silence. Misaki told them something of her mother's work and where it was expected to lead and Richard told them some amusing anecdotes about his and Sandra's practising for the coming concert, under a certain amount of protest and fact-correction from Sandra. Time passed happily for them all except Mrs Dawson, until they decided that it was time to leave.

Sandra and Richard left them at their gate, and the other three continued towards the Dawson house, Steven and Misaki hand in hand, and trying to include Mrs Dawson in the conversation, but it was heavy going. When they arrived at home, Mrs Dawson pleaded tiredness and a larger meal than normal, and went early to bed leaving Steven and Misaki to themselves. Steven offered Misaki a nightcap, and she accepted a very small cointreau whilst Steven took a glass of cognac.

"Your mother was very quiet at the pub," said Misaki after a while.

"Yes, I noticed. I don't know why."

"You don't think it is because of me?"

"No! Why on earth should it be?"

"I'm a change - perhaps an unwelcome change - to the pattern of her life."

"Why would you be unwelcome?"

"Well, let us say unexpected or uncertain. I'm bringing a change at any rate."

"Yes, I suppose so."

"We must be - how shall I say - reassuring tomorrow."

"Yes, perhaps we must."

They finished their drinks and Steven kissed her goodnight. On his way later from the bathroom to his bedroom he heard a sound from his mother's room. It sounded like a sob and he paused. It came again, and he knocked gently on the door.

"Mother," he called quietly. "Can I come in?"

"What do you want?"

"I just wanted a chat."

There was a long silence.


"Oh, come in then."

Steven entered his mother's bedroom where she was struggling to sit up in bed. She pulled a bed-jacket over her shoulders.

"What is it?" she asked a little petulantly.

"Is everything alright?" he asked.

"Why wouldn't it be?"

"I thought I heard you crying."

His mother said nothing for a few moments, then her face crumpled, and she began to sob.

"It's all happening too fast," she sobbed. "A month ago everything was as it had always been. Then suddenly you're staying in Winstable until the late train, and now you've brought a woman, one of your students, home. Where's it going to end, Steven?"

Steven was silent for a full minute.

"I don't know, Mother," he said finally. "I'm thirty two years of age. I've lived here at home with you all my life. Never had a girlfriend who lasted more than a few weeks or a few months. And now I've met Misaki. I like her a lot. But when you present it like that, it reminds me that, deep down, I, too, am frightened of where it might lead. But I'm also frightened that it might not lead anywhere. That Misaki will disappear, just like - what were their names? - Miriam and Anna and Felicity did once upon a time. I didn't miss them when they disappeared. But I would miss Misaki."

"What does Misaki want?"

"I don't know, Mother, and I daren't ask her. It's too soon. Until I know what I want, I don't want to know what she wants. And yet that's selfish. It feels like a lose-lose situation, or at least full of risk. And I don't have a history of taking risks, or of long relationships and deep experience with women."

"But where does that leave me? If you and she hit it off, what will you do? Would you stay here? With her? And what about her job, looking after her mother? How would she cope with that if she was living here? Or would you move there and leave me all alone here?"

"It's much too early for all these worries, Mother. I have no idea how things are going to work out. I'm taking it one day at a time."

"She really showed me up, with all her painting and music and learning a foreign language, which turned out not to be foreign at all..."

"Well, you were really rather rude to her, Mother, asking her what she does with all her free time in a way that made it clear you thought she has too much. You have as much free time as she does. And I don't think she was showing you up, as you put it. You asked a question and she answered it. It's not her fault that she's an accomplished artist or that she plays music. As she said, you could play our piano. It's a pity you gave up playing. Why did you?"

"I gave it up when you were born. I didn't think it was right for me to spend time on that when I had a child to bring up."

"Well you don't have a child to bring up now. Why don't you take it up again? You could ask Richard about a teacher if you think you couldn't do it on your own. And as Misaki said, it could help you practice the songs you sing with the choir."


"Anyway, what would you like to do tomorrow? How about a picnic? Or maybe just sit in the garden and chat."

"We can talk about that over breakfast. And now I think I'd like to go to sleep. Good night, Steven."

"Good-night, Mother. Sleep well."


Steven was up early the next morning, and busied himself with making breakfast. He had no idea what Misaki might eat for breakfast, but was convinced of her flexibility and willingness to accept what she was given. Fortunately she came down before he had come far with his preparations, and he could ask her about her likes and dislikes, and adjust his choices in accordance.

She helped as far as she could, asking where the cutlery and crockery were stored, and where they would be eating. When Mrs Dawson came down a little later, breakfast was as good as complete, a little more luxurious than the Dawsons' normal breakfast. She was surprised that the dining room was empty.

"It's a fine day, and already warm, Mother. I thought we could eat on the terrace," explained Steven.


Mrs Dawson went outside followed by Misaki carrying a pan full of boiled eggs, and Steven with a pot of tea and another of coffee.

"Is anything missing?" asked Steven more or less rhetorically.

"Not that I can see."

The three of them sat down to break their fast.

"We were thinking about today's plans last night, Misaki," said Steven. "I thought we might show you over the garden, and then maybe go for a walk round the village, and perhaps we could find somewhere to go for a picnic lunch. How does that sound?"

"What would you like, Mrs Dawson?" Misaki asked.

"Oh, I could help show you over the garden," replied Mrs Dawson. "And perhaps come on a picnic, but I think I'll let you go for your walk round the village by yourselves."

"Then that sounds like a plan."

After breakfast Steven offered to clear away whilst his mother took Misaki round the garden. At last, he thought, she would have something to show off, for she was proud of her garden. And so it proved. He only came out when he saw that they were on their way back towards the house. Misaki had taken the opportunity of giving a little ego-massage, and he had the distinct impression that his mother had thawed a little.

"Shall we go for our walk?" he asked, and Misaki smiled her agreement. "Why don't you come down to Patty's Pans about eleven o'clock, Mother. We can have a cup of coffee there."

"Perhaps I will."

Steven was conscious of a new feeling as he walked around his village hand in hand with Misaki, pointing out buildings and telling her their history and significance. But it was not his knowledge of the village which was the source of the new sensations, but the woman by his side, and the reaction of his many friends and acquaintances. She was beautiful in his eyes, and she was with him by her own choice, and he felt proud in a way he had not felt before. And his friends stopped them, and were introduced to her, and were so obviously pleased for him and for his good fortune in finding this woman to be his companion. Steven felt as though he grew in stature for every person who stopped and expressed a wish to know Misaki.

Eventually they arrived at Patty's Pans, the little café on the outskirts of the village. When they came in Mrs Dawson was already there, surrounded by a small group of her friends. No-one in the group noticed their entry at first, but went on with their discussion. The two young ones went over to the counter close to the table where Mrs Dawson and her friends were sitting, and ordered their drinks and cakes, before turning round to join the group.

At this point Doris saw them and said something Mrs Dawson, who looked up.

"Oh, here you are at last," she said. "Come and have a cup of coffee and meet my friends."

© James Wilde 2015